Maria Contreras-Sweet wasn’t looking to make a fashion statement with the T-shirts she handed out Friday to business owners during a four-stop walking tour of Freret Street.
“This is evidence that we came by,” Contreras-Sweet told Ancora Pizzeria & Salumeria co-owner Bryn Thompson, handing him a tee emblazoned with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s logo.
Since 2014, Contreras-Sweet has headed the SBA, the federal agency responsible for supporting America’s 28 million small businesses, which generate a majority of the country’s jobs and employ half of the country’s private-sector workforce.
Contreras-Sweet led an entourage of a half-dozen SBA officials as they visited with Freret Street business owners as part of the agency’s Main Street Road Tour, a five-day trek that covered five states and 11 cities.
The bus tour, which also stopped Friday in St. Francisville, started in Missouri and stopped in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
“I hope not, but this looks like the next Magazine Street,” Contreras-Sweet said as she toured Freret.
After having lunch at High Hat Cafe with owner Adolfo Garcia, the group stopped by Anacora before making its way to Bar Frances, a new eatery and wine bar that opened about six weeks ago.
“Have you ever heard of the SBA?” Contreras-Sweet asked restaurant co-owner P.J. Rosenberg, who responded in the affirmative and explained how the spot was named after his grandmother.
A few minutes later, the group stopped by Dennis’ Barber Shop, visiting with owner Dennis Sigur, who took a quick break from cutting hair to make small talk.
“Along the Delta Region, following the Mississippi River, we’ve seen some main streets that have been abandoned,” Contreras-Sweet said. “What I really love here is that you feel the vibrancy, you feel the energy, and people want to be located here.”